Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words...

Shrimp here.

When Cap'n Bill revived us in the Winter of '07-'08, we added a little graphic to the bottom of the Shellfish page that described this web log's state at that time. It remains to this day -- appropriately, we believe.

Go ahead, you can go down there and look. The Shellfish viewer will realize that we didn't really put a whole lot of effort into that graphic.

Someone else has, however, and the pseudonymous lay correspondent "LutherMan" over at ALPB Forum Online has pointed readers to http://i44.tinypic.com/2retekw.jpg -- and we simply can't resist showing it as (what our tiny mind is thinking is) the first graphic we have included in a Shellfish blog entry.





Shrimp out.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Feelin' the Love in the ELCA

Shrimp here.

"Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel," went the old political adage that also fit well in the church. Witness, for instance, The Protestant Reformation.

Thanks to the World Wide Web, though, large quantities of ink and newsprint are no longer necessary to get your message out. Witness, for instance, Shellfish itself.

Or for more, uh, conventional churchly publishing, there is the online-only Journal of Lutheran Ethics, "a free, online publication living out the Lutheran tradition of addressing social issues theologically, in conversation with Christian ethics and political theology" published by the Department for Studies of the ELCA's Church in Society program unit.

JLE started in 2001 and editrix ELCA pastor Kaari Reierson has presided over a lively exchange on all sorts of matters over the years. It has, in fact, been a place where more "traditionalist" Lutherans have been very much included as an expected and welcomed part of the conversations on "ethical" issues that have been on the screen during the past decade — perhaps the most truly inclusive forum within the ELCA.

Then there's the main article in the current (May 2010) issue's section "On the Coalition for Reform (CORE)" by Dr. Jon Pahl, lay Professor of History of Christianity in North America at the ELCA's venerable seminary at Mt. Airy.

The Core of Lutheran CORE: American Civil Religion and White Male Backlash

Jon Pahl, Ph.D.

You have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.... Do you despise the riches of God's kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.... For those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

—Romans 2:1-5, 8

Empires divide to conquer. Christians have often been prevented from the fullness of our witness to the gospel, if not completely conquered, by internal bickering that resolves upon historical examination into causes that have less to do with central doctrines or practices of Christianity than with jockeying for position in relationship to imperial privilege. Just such jockeying for power, for what Paul called "self-seeking," is at the core of Lutheran CORE, the so-called "Coalition for Reform." Lutheran CORE, in its mildest form, seeks to siphon funds away from the ELCA into ostensibly purer activities, some of them sponsored by The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). In its most extreme form, CORE seeks to foment schism and organize dissenting ELCA congregations into a new church — the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

Lutheran CORE claims to represent Lutheran orthodoxy, but, as I shall show, in fact abandons historic Lutheranism at crucial turns in favor of an American civil religion. This accretion of an American imprint on CORE's version of Lutheranism mirrors, as the epigraph from Paul suggests, how CORE leaders have repeatedly accused faithful ELCA leaders of having themselves sold out to "America." Even more, the leaders of Lutheran CORE, because they assert a self-righteous American moralism about sex and marriage as a litmus test of ecclesiastical purity, confuse law and gospel, and imperil the clear truth of salvation by grace through faith that is the actual core of historical and confessional Lutheran teaching. When teaching about sex replaces teaching about salvation as a defining mark of the church, something has clearly gone severely awry.

All in all, the core of Lutheran CORE is rotten. One can get more than a whiff of Docetism, Donatism, and Pelagianism — heresies all — in the doctrinal formulations of the various groups represented in the coalition. Lutheran CORE represents, in its demographic and historical contours, a largely white, heterosexual, male backlash against the supposedly evil changes in gender roles, sexual mores, and participatory democracy that marked the 1960s. At the same time, the leaders of the movement also ironically embrace many of the least savory aspects of the sixties rhetoric of adolescent resentment and entitlement. Most fundamentally, the leaders of Lutheran CORE have come to the brink of dividing the church in an attempt to hold onto (or to carve out) some power. The movement undermines the universal need to repent and to trust in grace that it claims to uphold, and it substitutes for the gospel a pale version of American imperial ambition. That the movement obstructs God's demand to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, in an attempt to prop up the privilege of a powerful few, almost goes without saying. As is the case with many other schismatic purity movements in American religious history, however, for all of its sound and fury, Lutheran CORE is doomed to be a historical footnote, or a cipher, in the larger history of the body of Christ.
There's more here, but we can't help but notice that Dr. Pahl's examples come from the WordAlone Network and LCMC, and that the only Lutheran CORE identification is erroneous. Of the many giants in the Philadelphia seminary's history, Dr. Pahl reminds us only of Bishop William Lazareth when he was really po'd — except Dr. Lazareth always checked his facts and demonstrated theological depth to go with his sharp phrases. Charles Porterfield Krauth, Luther Reed, Paul Zeller Strodach, John Reumann, Timothy Lull he is not. But at least no ink was wasted — except by the few who may have printed Dr. Pahl's screed at home in order to read it.

JLE includes a brief response from Prof. Bob Benne and Shrimp hears that other well-written responses would be welcomed. A full response would, in print, need to remind one of Concordia Publishing House's 886 page reprint of Krauth's The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology.

Actually, digesting The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology itself just might the best antidote to Pahl's piece. Click that link; it's on sale right now for $15!

Shrimp out.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Seismo-theological alert

Scallop checking in from the Monitoring and Emergency Preparedness Center of the Institute For Seismo-Theology (IFS-T):

The IFS-T student body and faculty here just read the following ELCA newsblast and are calling for an all-out response in preparation for the discussions announced below:

http://www.elca.org/News/Releases.asp?a=4518

ELCA NEWS SERVICE
May 4, 2010

ELCA Leaders to Respond to Actions, Comments by Lutherans in Africa
10-132-JB

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will discuss concerns about the actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly on human sexuality with Lutheran church partners from Ethiopia and Tanzania in private meetings to be held in Chicago during the next two weeks.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, said he will meet with the Rev. Wakseyoum Idosa, president of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) in Chicago on May 10. Hanson also said he will meet with the Rev. Alex Malasusa, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) May 18. Malasusa will be in Chicago for a companion synod consultation with ELCA Global Mission staff.
Last month leaders of the two African churches expressed deep concern over decisions of the 2009 assembly and, separately, the Church of Sweden, on sexuality matters. The two African churches focused their public comments on opposition to same-sex or same-gender marriages.
The Church of Sweden, the ELCT, the EECMY and the ELCA are the four largest churches in the Lutheran World Federation, (LWF), a global communion of churches.
Hanson said he expects to have "honest and open conversations" with both leaders, and added that it is his practice to communicate directly with leaders in companion churches. The ELCA presiding bishop said he plans to share with both leaders "the ELCA's shared commitment with partner churches to be engaged in God's mission for the sake of the world."
Since the churchwide assembly, ELCA Global Mission staff has been communicating with companion churches "our intent to continue to be respectful of local policies and practices in the assignment of mission personnel and the development of shared ministries," said the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission.
At the Africa LWF Pre-assembly and Church Leadership Consultation held in March in Nigeria, Malpica Padilla said the ELCA is "deeply grateful" for the companionship of the African churches.
"For many decades our churches have walked together, sharing their gifts and talents for the proclamation of the gospel of salvation and hope in Jesus Christ. This companionship in the gospel has strengthened the bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood between our peoples." Malpica Padilla added that these relationships are "historical and deeply rooted."

+ + +

Here at IFS-T (that's the Institute for Seismo-Theology), an interdisciplinary response in anticipation of the private meetings between Hanson and Idosa (May 10) and Malasusa (May 18) is being mobilized. Early reports from various student organizations and faculty groups:

· The IFS-T Prayer Network is calling for an all-out, hit-the-ground-on-your-knees prayer vigil during the days leading up to the meetings, and 'round the clock/'round the world on May 10 and May 18. Lots to pray for -- the partner churches and their leaders are in Ethiopia and Tanzania are shaking things up with their willingness to make the good confession. Kneel with them.

· The social-networking set is reminding everyone who’s participating in the Prayer Network’s vigil to let your prayers be known. Post your prayers here ... or on your favorite blog. Do be respectful and intentional in your prayers and in any messages reporting same.

· Several graduate assistants are setting up a monitoring study – their hypothesis is that "knees hitting the ground can be detected by seismological monitors being adapting for this purpose." Seismological reporting stations, take note.

· The journalism faculty’s contribution: To call for “honest and open reporting” of the hoped-for “honest and open conversations” on May 10 and 18. They really hope against hope for open meetings in a disclosed location. Please pray for their intentions.

· Historians would like to conduct pre- and post- interviews of the three church leaders. They also are calculating odds on what the first question from the African leaders to their ELCA counterpart will be. “Do you repent?” is an odds-on favorite.

So much for now.

Scallop out.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Beth Lewis' Letter to ELCA Rostered Leaders

Shrimp here, with another tip o' the claw to pretty good lutherans.

Augsburg Fortress CEO Beth A. Lewis has written an "Open letter to ELCA rostered leaders" and it appeared last Wednesday on her One Mission Blog. We offer it here in it entirety:

Open letter to ELCA rostered leaders

April 28th, 2010 by Beth A. Lewis

Last week, I wrote the letter inserted below to the rostered leaders (pastors, associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers) of the ELCA. We asked the synodical bishops to forward it to the rostered leaders in their respective synods. But, bishops and their staff members are extremely busy! Especially at this time of the year when they are focused on leading their annual synod assemblies!

So, I am posting the letter here as an open letter not only to rostered leaders, but for anyone who is interested in learning more about the very difficult decisions we made related to the termination of the Augsburg Fortress defined benefit pension plan and the distribution of the assets to the plan participants.

Here is the letter:

"April 23, 2010

Dear Partners in Ministry:

Many of you are aware of the recent decision Augsburg Fortress made to terminate our defined benefit pension plan and distribute the assets to all plan participants. We deeply regret any hardship that these decisions have caused. You may also have heard that a lawsuit was filed against us this week. The complaint brought against Augsburg Fortress and other defendants in this matter is wholly without merit. We deny all claims of wrongdoing alleged in the complaint and will seek its dismissal.

I am writing this letter to help you better understand why we made these heart-wrenching decisions and why we believe the course we took was the most fair and equitable for the plan participants. It is an extremely complicated situation, but I will try to explain it as clearly as I can.

Last December we decided to terminate the defined benefit plan and distribute the assets to all plan participants. This decision was taken only after months of consultation with outside pension, actuarial and other experts, as well as a thorough pursuit of other options to close the funding deficiency. It was the final step of a long journey.

In March 2005, it had become clear to us that the Augsburg Fortress defined benefit pension plan would not be sustainable for the organization if we kept adding employee plan participants. So we froze the plan, essentially not allowing new participants into it, and implemented a defined contribution 403b retirement plan, available to all Augsburg Fortress employees. Our understanding at the time, based on our fund managers’ advice, was that the defined benefit pension plan, once frozen, would be sustainable for decades.

However, from late 2007 through early 2009, the plan was hit by a "perfect storm" of factors:
  • The worst equity market decline since the Great Depression
  • Adjustment to mortality tables, increasing the theoretical liability because retirees are living longer than the actuaries predicted
  • Low interest rates
  • As the market has recovered, continued withdrawals for current retirees prohibited recovery of the pension plan assets
Because of the way this plan was structured decades ago, plus the operating losses being incurred by Augsburg Fortress in recent years and the impact of these "perfect storm" factors, almost 60% of the plan participants—current and former employees not yet retired—would have received nothing! We didn’t think this was fair or equitable.

We therefore chose to terminate the plan and distribute the assets across the entire pool of plan participants to address this equity issue. The distribution calculations were based on a complex set of actuarial data including years of service. In general, our guideline was that people who had worked for AF for many years would receive more than those who had worked for AF for fewer years. And, retirees would receive more than those who had not yet retired. The distributions were made in mid-March with strong encouragement for plan participants to obtain financial counsel to assist in deciding the best course of financial planning with the distribution.

I recognize that these issues are difficult for all of you, as they are for us, during a time when ELCA leaders are worried about many things. The bottom line here was that there were no good choices to be made so we made the best choice out of a number of bad options.

Should you have any questions about this or anything else related to Augsburg Fortress, please don’t hesitate to contact me. And, above all, please join me in praying for all who have been affected by these difficult economic times and, in particular, those who have been impacted by these decisions.

Blessings,

Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO
Augsburg Fortress
Beth.lewis@augsburgfortress.org "


If you have questions about this, I will be happy to try to answer them. I am very grateful for the many people who have been in touch with me to express their concern for all who have been affected by these decisions and for all who are now having to deal with the law suit that has been filed.

Thanks for your prayers!
Blessings,

Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO
Augsburg Fortress
Shrimp again, noting that also last Wednesday the ELCA News Service reported:
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), was among 21 religious leaders who signed letters to top U.S. government officials, urging that they raise concerns for the protection of minority groups in Iraq, including Christians.
Read it all here. Still nothing from the Presiding Bishop, however, on the plight of employees and retirees of the "the publishing house of the ELCA."

Shrimp out.

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...